SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's denied new allegations that he knew about the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge as they were going on. Now, charges made in a letter released yesterday from the lawyer of David Wildstein, a former ally of the governor's. He oversaw the closures as an official of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Those closures last September caused huge traffic problems in Fort Lee, and reports have shown aides to the governor considered it payback for the mayor of Fort Lee not endorsing the governor for re-election. A spokesman for Mr. Christie responded the governor had no prior knowledge of the closures and their motivation. We're joined now from New Jersey by Patrick Murray, who's the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. Thanks so much for being with us.
PATRICK MURRAY: Oh, my pleasure, Scott.
SIMON: Now, Mr. Wildstein's attorney said there was evidence, but he didn't offer it. How do you see this development?
MURRAY: Well, there's no question that even without any evidence at this point, there's a political price to pay for Gov. Christie. You know, this is just a charge, but it's a charge by somebody who would be in the position to know. Now obviously, Wildstein has his own motivations for doing this - unlike what I think a lot of people in the national press have cast him as one of Christie's high school friends.
And that was never the case for those of us who know this guy from his New Jersey days. This is a guy who's out on his own, and he's a bit of a wildcard. So the governor needs to watch it.
SIMON: And he wants the Port Authority to pay his legal bills, which could be considerable, and...
MURRAY: Right, exactly.
SIMON: And doesn't want to be indicted, I'm assuming.
MURRAY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He's really worried, and he doesn't feel that the Christie circle is going to back him up or support him. So he's made it known that he will spill the beans on everything if he doesn't get the help that he wants.
SIMON: But we should underscore, we don't know what the beans are, if you please.
MURRAY: Right, exactly.
SIMON: What happens next, a subpoena?
MURRAY: Certainly. If you put those charges out in public, that means that the U.S. attorney as well as the legislative investigation committees are going to subpoena what, exact, evidence do you have? So he's opened the floodgates for that, and his lawyer knows that that's exactly what they did.
SIMON: Understandably, there's been so much attention on what this does to Gov. Christie's national profile. What about New Jersey? Does he have a weaker hand as governor, at the moment?
MURRAY: Yeah. I mean, when the Bridgegate thing started to fold out, we found that there was a benefit of the doubt that he was getting from the New Jersey public. People were willing to let him - give him a little slack on what may come out of this. This may be too far, and we've already seen indications that his allies in the legislature, his Democratic allies, the leadership that controls the legislature who've been with him all along, have now deserted him.
They've come out; they've said, we've got to go after the governor. They have people who have spoken nationally, saying, we need to concentrate on something else; have now turned around and said, we need to go after the governor. So he has a weaker hand as he goes forward and tries to put together a budget and everything else that he wants to do.
SIMON: And then to get back to the national aspect - on the other hand, it is a couple of years away from a national election campaign. I know this puts you on the spot, but do you see this as an issue in another year?
MURRAY: It's certainly an issue. If nothing comes out of this, he can rebuild from this. But it's going to take some time, if there's no evidence. But in the short term, there is an impact. He's the chair of the Republican Governor's Association. He was going to use that as a springboard to 2016 because he was going to go around the country campaigning for all these governors running in 2014. He was going to raise money for them, and he was going to get chips.
He was going to raise his profile, and he was going to earn their support when he runs in 2016. If he's seen as ineffective in that role, and if he's forced to step down in that role - because he doesn't have time to get out from under this cloud - that could have a big impact on his presidential aspirations, even if these allegations aren't true.
SIMON: Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. Thanks so much.
MURRAY: My pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.